My years of being a Human Resource professional have taught me one thing, if you don’t give feedback, performance will not change. A manager cannot gossip, shun or pray a poor performer into an outstanding performer. There have been hundreds of managers who sulk into my office wanting to terminate a poor performing employee and when I ask, “Do they know they aren’t performing?” The answer is usually, “Well, they should know they aren’t”. Me, “So you haven’t told them?” Reply was typically, “No”. Hmmm. Wonder why the employee has not done a dramatic turn around?
Most people avoid feedback because they are afraid of conflict. Most of us are afraid of conflict. It’s uncomfortable. It’s much easier to stand by the water cooler and complain to my co-worker about my slacker assistant than to actually tell my assistant that he’s been late every day this week and what solutions can happen for his tardiness. We often hope and pray that the slacker assistant will wake up and realize that the cold shoulder they’ve been given will prompt him or her to realize that we’re angry that they don’t show up on time. These tactics will not work.
So here are my tactics on how to give effective feedback:
1. Objective. The feedback needs to be unbiased and equitable. This can be difficult if you have many direct reports. We naturally have affinity for folks “just like me”. Bias is difficult to acknowledge so try to use information that is easily quantified and can be compared to others. This might mean number of customers served, average daily sales, or customer survey scores. Make sure the feedback comes from objective sources.
2. Measurable. What gets measured gets done. I can remember having sales contests in the restaurant I owned. When we started measuring how many desserts were sold on each shift, suddenly our dessert sales went through the roof. We didn’t even have an incentive associated with selling the most desserts. Everyone wants to know the score. A score lets you know if you are ahead or behind. Make sure everyone knows the score.
3. Rationale. Make sure you link the feedback to the rationale of how it fits into the big picture. If we can reduce input errors by 5%, we will reduce our turnaround time by 12 hours. If you serve 3 more customers a day, we will increase net profit. Employees need to know how they affect the big picture and they need to know that they have a line of sight to the end goal.
4. Timely. Many managers wait and hesitate to give feedback. They hope that the employee will turn around all on their own. By the time they give the feedback, the shelf life has expired. You can’t talk about the customer complaint from three months ago and expect there to be a performance improvement. Studies have shown that immediate feedback produces the best results (Codding, Feinberg, Dunn, & Pace, 2005). Employees need relevant information as soon as possible. Treat performance feedback like a carton of milk that will expire in 5 days.
5. Repeat. Good or bad, keep giving feedback. I wrote a post about Gen Y in the workplace. Twenty-somethings right out of college or high school, have been receiving daily and hourly feedback for twelve plus years. They get grades on the quiz, they get called on in class, and there is constant interaction with classmates. Then they get hired, come to a cube farm, get trained for a few weeks and are left on their own. Feedback produces the best results when it is delivered frequently (Hattie, 2009). From a management standpoint, it’s easier to give the feedback if you are doing it on a daily basis. Make it your habit.
6. Not personal. Keep the information to specific facts. So the report was two days late, the spreadsheet had six errors, or you had three dropped calls yesterday. These are facts. They are not value judgments. You might think your assistant is a slacker or lazy or sloppy, just don’t say that out loud. Facts are facts. Personal judgments are damaging to performance. Feedback produces the better results when it is directed at the performance and actually produces negative effects when it is personal (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). Don’t make it personal and deliver it without judgement
7. Collaboration. Try and take a coaching approach to issues. My 22 year old daughter said “we must always be willing to learn from one another no matter where one lies in the hierarchy. That’s something I take very seriously, but I don’t think those higher up are sometimes willing to accept that all of this is much more free flowing and improvisational than it seems.” I know when I coach folks, it’s important for me to not be attached to an outcome. I think employees are much more empowered when they can improvise and have say in the solution. So ask them for help in solving the problem and take their suggestion if at all possible.
Accept that you won’t be perfect at first. Get out there and try. Frequency is the key. Learn from your mistakes and keep honing it in.